LGBTQ Pride Celebration

The month of June sees celebrations across the world take place to recognise the influence of LGBTQ people around the world in our day to day lives. June has been identified as the appropriate month for this due to the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that took place from 28th June 1969 to 3rd July 1969.

Pictures from history

Stonewall Inn

The start of a movement

During the 50s and 60s there were still police raids on bars and establishments as homosexuality, cross dressing and transgender characteristics were still considered illegal.

On this morning the pub customers decided not to co-operate with the degrading searches and the police made arrests. From there, the situation deteriorated into violent protests but history considers this to be a landmark point in the establishment of the gay rights movement.

What does all this have to do with the workplace?

Still quite a lot.

Up till last year there are still dozens of tribunal claims relating to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation with awards being:

Maximum £96,645

Median £9245

Mean Average £27,936

These cases were bought to tribunal under the Equality Act 2010.

Whilst some protected characteristics could potentially give rise to “accidental” discriminations some indirect discrimination cases and possibly some Equal Pay claims I would suggest that there are very few accidental, if any discriminatory behaviours in regards to sexual orientation. Most complaints will be caused by careless banter, deliberate bullying and teasing or some misplaced “moral” opinion.

It’s a little too easy for us managers and employers to dismiss the idea of such behaviour occurring in our own workplaces but clearly, the stats above indicate that we would be unwise to make this assumption.

What to look out for

Banter is an important part of the workplace and whilst the safest and most legal option would be to ban banter, it feels a very unrealistic expectation and who really wants to work in such a behaviourally clinically clean environment?

We tend to find that banter increases with comfort and familiarity in the workplace. As we get to know are colleagues better and share more common bonds and camaraderie the banter starts especially to lighten the mood when the pressure is on.

However, banter by its very nature is risqué and what makes it risqué is that we know that we are being “a little bit inappropriate”.

The playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks.”

The problem arises for two main reasons, firstly, our tolerance or mood for banter changes depending upon what is going on in our lives and so what we find funny one day is offensive the next. Just because someone found a comment funny yesterday doesn’t mean that the same comment is not discriminatory even if the intention was not to offend.

Imagine the scenario at work when you may make the occasional “harmless gay joke” because of an individual’s physical appearance and it is usually treated with a witty riposte. However, one evening this individual’s child informs them that they think they are gay. Whilst it is not automatic that they would take offence, people don’t work that way, there is a heightened risk that they would be offended.

Question – when did the discrimination happen?

I would suggest, both occasions. Whilst we may not be offended the first time and so not make any complaint and even participate the second scenario may have happened – someone may have overheard and was offended, they can go ahead and make a complaint.

Clearly the second occasion is more obvious if the recipient of the banter was offended and the change in this is the impact of the events taking place at home which colleagues will be oblivious to. That obliviousness will not be a defence and the previous participation can not be relied upon as a defence.

Going back to the other scenario for managers to look out for is the risk of people being unintentionally impacted by overhearing the banter. Whether this is customers, your staff or actually other employees who are on your site during the course of carrying out their work. All of this is a good reason to not have such banter in the workplace.

Bullying / teasing

“seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable)”

Making comments or remarks or “jokes” are only banter when it is received as such if the recipient is upset and the “banter” continues, that IS bullying and teasing and is in breach of the Equality Act 2010. As well as being illegal the damage it can cause to an individual is profound and also the damage to a workplace culture is immeasurable in regards to morale, productivity and engagement.

Misplaced Moral Opinion

I appreciate that this point may be contentious but the law around it really is not. Your protected characteristic is defended under the Equality Act of 2010, however, if by practising that “protected characteristic” you undermine another person’s protected characteristic then that behaviour in question will not be justified. We saw this with the exclusion of NF members from trade union membership (found to be justified) as clearly some of the NF beliefs undermine race equality. This would apply for faith and belief which is where this “contradiction / conflict” may occur.

How this applies to the workplace

Different types of discrimination  
DirectWhen you suffer treatment that is less favourable than another because of a protected characteristic that you have OR ARE ASSUMED TO HAVE
IndirectYou may be treated the same as everyone else but that policy or treatment puts you at a disadvantage due to your protected characteristic
HarassmentThis is a violation of someone’s dignity and respect associated with their protected characteristic
VictimisationA person suffers a detriment because they have made a claim in relation to Equality Act or because they have supported such a claim

What employers can / should do

  • Have a well publicised Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity policy
  • Train managers on how to spot bullying / inappropriate banter and how to tackle these issues at an early stage
  • Create a culture where it is expected and accepted that people are safe to challenge banter when it is not comfortable
  • Use investigation and discipline when inappropriate behaviour is discovered

Links

PROTECTED CHARACTERISTICS VIDEO

LGBT RIGHTS IN THE UK – WIKI

Acas policy template

IMPROVING E&D IN YOUR WORKPLACE – ACAS guidance

Further advice, information and support including training for you and your people